First public servant cohort graduate in Victoria

Last week in Victoria, Australia we saw the first cohort graduate from our States of Change learning programme. Marking the end of their formal learning journey that began back in April last year, the 10 teams from across the Victorian government came back together to reflect and commit to ways they will ‘go and do together’ in the future, to continue to grow the practice of public innovation.

The Victorian 'Innovation Immersion'

The day before the big event, the cohort participated in an even bigger event; a government wide ‘Innovation Immersion’ to showcase, celebrate and grow the network of practical innovators working across the Victorian Public Sector. The cohort were proud to be part of this bigger network of transformation across their government, and they presented their projects and shared their learnings in a packed marketplace.

One of the States of Change teams even invited some VIP guests to help bring their project prototype to life - a group of high school children, some of whom were visiting their state capital Melbourne for the first time. These children stood up in front of 500 public servants and spoke about their experiences of being involved in the team’s project and wider programme, and the impact this has had on their regional community.

Graduation day - what we did

The graduation day began, as our days together always have, with an EQ check-in and reflection. There was a general sense of ‘sad but glad’: sad that the formal learning journey was over, but glad that they’re leaving with a strong network.

Programme leaders and States of Change faculty Brenton and Bas shared their reflections on the changes they have witnessed from the cohort, and returned to this idea of an experimental mindset - a core objective of this programme. Through continual iteration and using new tools and worksheets in their projects, the cohort had been enabling and putting into practice this very experimental mindset. They encouraged the participants to recognise that this experience was really about culture change, under the guise of a training programme.

For the remainder of the morning we worked through an activity to identify and share ‘one thing that you are doing differently’ and ‘what your practice looked like before’ - essentially, what they felt their ‘Shape of Change’ was.

As the States of Change team running the programme. we then symbolically handed over the baton to the group, and three of our participants Abby, Jeanie and Amy led a session looking ahead to future practice.

As a peer group, the cohort generated a joint commitment to future actions they’ll carry out in order to continue growing innovation practice in the Victorian Public Service. This joint commitment statement mirrored the pledge the cohort undertook all the way back in April at the scoping workshop. These commitments included:

  • Have a brave mindset
  • Find a way to involve stakeholders in every step of the journey
  • Find different ways to keep States of Change community connected and growing
  • Pursue and confirm an authorising environment for innovation approaches in everyday practice
  • Gather stories of States of Change tools in practice
  • Build time to reflect and try new things into our process and practice

After a celebratory picnic in the park (complete with Finska), Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan joined to congratulate the cohort, and to encourage them to see themselves within the wider innovation ecosystem and to always be ready to create change when the time and environment is right.

With their sponsors, peers and executives in the room, the cohort shared these commitments and their leaders shared commitments of their own in their roles to keep the learning alive beyond the formal end of the programme. On graduating, each participant received a tool compendium to help them take their innovation practice forward now they are alumni.

What's changed through the programme

In listening to the reflection and morning session sharing we did a quick-and-dirty grouping of themes that emerged when talking about individual changes. These included changes in:

  • Confidence - specifically in dealing with complexity
  • Engaging - specifically with stakeholders in new and different ways, as well as earlier on in processes
  • Questioning / challenging - “asking why” (constantly)
  • Hacking - being persistent in finding work arounds
  • Connecting - to their passion and purpose as public servants

In our initial reflections, we feel that these changes could be pulled together by the term: agency. While we set out to create a space to experiment with new ways of working, doing and thinking, we hope to have also imparted the competencies and attitudes for the cohort now create their own space.

We’ll be continuing to work through the shifts in behaviour we’ve seen and will share some deeper reflections soon. The Policy Lab at Melbourne University have also been partnering with us and the Department of Premier and Cabinet to evaluate the programme, and after the post-programme interviews and analysis are done we’ll share those findings too.

The end of the beginning

This was a big day for us in the States of Change team too, as we’ve now finished our first full length pilot of the learning programme. At nine months long, this pilot has brought to life one of the transitions we wanted to see with States of Change - from short, one-off training sessions to longer form, in-practice learning. The rapport and trust that this approach created with the cohort and our partners has opened the space for us to push further and challenge their practice, and our assumptions, on what it takes to do innovation in the public sector.

Massive thanks to Rob, Maree, Andrew and Sam (and the whole Public Sector Innovation branch) at the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria who were fantastic programme partners on this pilot journey, and more importantly our extended team, fellow explorers and friends for the past year (don’t worry, it doesn’t end here!).

Thanks also to the faculty that joined us on the journey. Joeri, Dom and Juan Felipe, you each brought your own flavour to the programme, and consistently inspired practice and new ways of seeing challenges and recognising opportunities to.

And most of all thank you to the cohort, who impress us every day with their determination and energy in creating public value.